British Airways is hopeful of forging an alliance with either China Eastern or China Southern to strengthen its footprint in the world's second-largest economy.
While stopping short of a joint venture, the move would fill the gap created by the lack of a Chinese airline in the Oneworld family.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airline parent International Airlines Group, said BA has been holding discussions with China Eastern and China Southern – both of which are members of the SkyTeam airline alliance – with an eye towards developing a codeshare relationship.
"We've been for some time in discussions with China Eastern and China Southern with the view to codesharing with British Airways and we're optimistic that we'll make progress there," Walsh told The Wall Street Journal yesterday during a visit to Hong Kong, adding that he hoped to have some codeshare agreements sealed this year.
"We met informally for a number of years but we've been having more formal discussions over the past couple of months," Walsh expanded.
British Airways currently flies between Heathrow and Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu.
Qantas last year forged a joint venture with Shanghai-based China Eastern as part of a renewed push into the Chinese market, which includes codesharing on China Eastern's Sydney–Shanghai and Melbourne–Shanghai flights.
The five-year alliance between Qantas and China Eastern can be considered as a Chinese equivalent of the Flying Kangaroo's partnerships with Emirates and American Airlines, helping the Aussie airline tap into the booming Chinese market including business travel to many 'second tier' cities which are hubs for manufacturing.
“Aviation is opening up new travel and business opportunities at a time when the Australia-China relationship is more important than ever to both countries" said Qantas International CEO Gareth Evans at the time of the announcement.
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